Bill Smallwood, a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, trains on the Las Vegas strip, but not in a gym – on the actual strip itself.
You can find Smallwood, 33, shadow-boxing where gamblers and families and fun-seekers rush to buffets and blackjack tables, but they also stop to watch Smallwood jab and uppercut the air with a pair of two-pound rocks in his hands. The rocks are used for weight, but also in a Native way, he said. His people, the Crow, refer to them as “grandfathers.”
Smallwood said he doesn’t shadow box on the strip to draw a crowd, but to familiarize himself with noise and other distractions. The rumble of the arena, he said, is not unlike the rowdy and raucous Las Vegas strip.
“You walk up and down the strip and you shadow box,” he told ICTMN. “At the same time you learn how to drown out everybody else.”
Smallwood is currently training for his next match against Tony “T3” Cantrell at “King of the Cage – Fighting Spirit” on January 17 at Spirit Lake Casino and Resort in Saint Michael, North Dakota.
When he’s not training, Smallwood volunteers at organizations across the country.
“I work with diabetes awareness, childhood cancer, suicide prevention, at-risk youth, alcoholism,” he said.
Photo courtesy Bill Smallwood
Smallwood admitted that he, himself, suffered from alcoholism, but he’s now three-years sober and encourages sobriety among those currently suffering from addiction.
Smallwood, who has a degree in finance and marketing from the University of Central Oklahoma, added he also works to keep Native American traditions a part of his life.
“I try to go back to old tradition,” he said. “I still go to sweat lodge. I plan to [go to] sundance. The crows, they piggyback off the Sioux.”
Smallwood said his commitment to volunteering and his ambition was largely inspired by friend and mentor Pat Packineau of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. Packineau is the General Manager of the Four Bears Casino in New Town, North Dakota, and president and board of directors at the Fort Berthold Community College in the same city.
“I look up to him because he’s able to be the same and able to give back to Native Americans,” Smallwood said.
In the meantime, Smallwood continues to shadow box on the strip and train for his match against Cantrell.